Once you've identified the essential tools you should take with you on every bike ride, and built a small tool kit to keep things running smoothly, it's time to look at assembling the right tools and materials to keep your bike in good shape without having to take it to the shop every time you need a small adjustment.
A lot of that comes with knowledge, but you can find loads of free information on simple adjustments online, and especially on YouTube. The trick is to make sure you have the right tool to tackle whatever you're learning.
So, here's a collection of essential tools for making simple adjustments at home. Most of these can be purchased for less than the minimum labor cost at your local bike shop, and you'll learn something in the process. Plus, who doesn't love an excuse to buy new tools. Let's go!
1. Chain scrubber: Sorry for the gross, dirty photo, but - hey - I actually use this thing. There's no better way to get dirt and build-up off your chain than with this tool designed exactly for that purpose. It's amazing how shiny it will look again. My rule is to try to clean and lubricate my chain every 100 miles, and scrub it every 300-400 miles. That's based on my type of riding, but a clean chain will never hurt. Just make sure you lube it again.
ManMade Recommended: Park Tool CM-5.2 Cyclone Chain Scrubber - $24.00
2. Gear Clean Brush: One end gets inside the cogs of your cassette, the other removes build up from your derailleur pulleys, crank arms, etc. There's no better way to get in there.
ManMade Recommended: Park Tool GearClean Brush GSC-1C $5.62
3. Combination Wrench Set: 7mm - 17mm Adjustable wrenches work in a pinch, but having both and open and box end will work better, faster, and reduce rounding over your hardware. Spend what you can afford, but unless you're going pro, you don't need Snap-On tools, and a medium-duty wrench from the hardware store will work just fine.
ManMade Recommended: Stanley 94-386W 11-Piece Combination Wrench Set, Metric - $22.00
4. Repair Stand: This might seem like a dedicated shop tool, but if you're a regular rider and tweaker, you're gonna love having one of these. Even if all you do is wash your bike and clean and lube your drivetrain a few times a summer, an inexpensive stand will save tons of headaches. No reason to purchase a high end, fixed stand - you're not gonna be using this all day/every day. I've been more than happy with this folding stand from Conquer; I've used it weekly since I got it a few years ago. It takes me less time to get this out and put my bike in it to lube my chain than it does to try to find a place to lean my frame and pedal backwards without banging into something. There are loads of affordable options on Amazon. Spend as much as you think it's worth.
ManMade Recommended: Bike Mechanic Adjustable Repair Stand by Conquer - $40
5. Spoke Wrench: You don't have to have years of training and truing stand to fix an errant wheel. You can do it right on the bike with a little patience. You don't have to buy all four sizes - just find out which size your bike needs, and get that one, or a multi-size option. Just remember - spokes are threaded from the outside of the wheel, so as you're looking down - lefty tighty, righty loosey.
6. Chain Tool: At some point, your going to want to remove or put on a chain, remove a link, or free a stuck one. There's only one way to do it. A small, lightweight option won't bog you down if you choose to ride with it, just in case.
ManMade Recommended: Park Tool Mini Chain Brute Chain Tool - CT-5 $15.26
7. Locking Pliers: Cause sometimes, things need a little, uh, encouragement.
8. Zip ties: Ask any bike mechanic how useful these things are when working with only two hands. Strong, cheaper, and super versatile.
ManMade Recommended: Whatever you can find in assorted sizes and colors. Don't over think it.
9. Pedal wrench: If your family owns more than one bicycle, or you ride yours for a variety of purposes, you're going to switch out the pedals. A dedicated pedal wrench allows you to access the axle and hold it still while you rotate the cranks to tighten or loosen. You might be able to get in their with a 15mm open-end wrench or cone wrench, but you won't be able to apply enough force and you'll bang up your knuckles. Guaranteed.
ManMade Recommended: Park Tool Home Mechanic Pedal Wrench - PW-5 or Park Tool PW-3 Pedal Wrench (15mm and 9/16 - Inch)
10. Bearing Grease, Thread Locker, and Penetrating Oil: In addition to a wet and dry lube, these three complete the "software" for working on all those mechnical parts, and decided which ones should keep moving, and which ones need to stay still.
- Liquid Wrench L112 Penetrating Oil Spray - $4.00
- Loctite Blue 242 Threadlocker 6-Milliliter Tube - $5.45
- Phil Wood 3-Ounce Grease Tube - $11.14
11. Torque Wrench: Many parts need to be cinched down to a specific setting - in foot-pounds or newton-meter - in order to stay tight during all that movement, but not so tight as to hurt the materials. (Especially important for carbon fiber and aluminum components). A torque wrench lets you know when you've reached it.
ManMade Recommended: TEKTON 24330 3/8-Inch Drive Click Torque Wrench, 10-80 Foot/Pound $34.75
12. Double-ended Cone Wrench Set, 13-19mm: Many components on bicycles use a cup and cone bearing system: a funnel-shaped race in which the bearings run, and a cup-shaped cap to keep them in place. Wheel hubs (the center part that stays still while the spokes and wheel spins around) are an obvious example. These parts are small, and normal box wrenches will often not fit inside. A set of laser cut cone wrenches are designed for exactly this task, and are a signature tool of the bike mechanic. They will work coupled with your combo wrenches, and are much more affordable than a dedicated cast shop wrench in every size. There are two ends for the most common sizes: 13 and 15mm.
13. 3-Way Wrenches: These make such quick work of hex key and hex-head bolts. The Y-shape makes them easy to find, easy to keep track of, and easy to apply force (especially helpful when loosening stuck hardware). A 4,5,6mm and a 2,2.5,3mm hex wrench and 8,9,10mm socket wrench will come in handy again and again.
14. Pitch gauge, cow magnet, and scribe: These three helpers are great assistants when at the workbench. The pitch gauge helps you check thread types if you need to replace something. The scribe is a personal favorite (you can also use a spoke that's been sharpened to a point): you can use it to mark things, clean out crud, check for pitting left from rust on a headset or bottom bracket, etc. Magnetized with a cow magnet, there's no better way to remove or replace ball bearings in their little bath of grease.
15. A copy of Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance: There's no better place to look up the procedures and techniques to use all these tools than this mechanic's classic, now in its 5th edition. If you primarily ride mountain bikes, there's an edition for that, too.